Thursday, July 25, 2024

Recasting the Net: What is the Impact on Power after the “Digital Dream”?

It was an honour to be invited to attend “Recasting the Net”: A prestigious new series of live and online debates, curated by LSE think-tank POLIS and Channel 4’s 4iP team, designed to explore and discuss the next phase of the web in Birmingham Birmingham on 17th September to discuss the impact of online tools on how we are holding power to account.

By Liz Azyan , in General , at October 1, 2009 Tags: , , , , ,

It was an honour to be invited to attend “Recasting the Net”: A prestigious new series of live and online debates, curated by LSE think-tank POLIS and Channel 4’s 4iP team, designed to explore and discuss the next phase of the web in Birmingham Birmingham on 17th September to discuss the impact of online tools on how we are holding power to account.

The main question here was…

Are we experiencing a fundamental shift in how the public interact with the institutions which govern their lives, or are we simply seeing a migration of the same conversations, approaches, and voices to online platforms?

Its a good question to ask and I have to say I have given it some thought from now and again, but never really giving a thorough thought. So it was nice to be at the event an uncover some hidden tales and gems…

The controversial guest…

For the past few weeks, there has been alot of talk and controversial comments about the new #bccwebsite.  Over the time I’ve done my research, I had an gut feeling something like this would happen. I was aware of the new development of Birmingham City Council’s (BCC) website and knew of what it was fundamentally lacking from a social web or web 2.0 technology point of view.

So it was certainly like walking into a “firing zone” when it was announced that Cllr Paul Tilsley, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council was going to be on the panel. He even praised BCC of being web savvy in this post leading up to the live and online debate. Well maybe not from the live audience but certainly on twitter and the blogoshpere. There are a couple of blog posts I’d like to point everyone to in regards to this to catch up on.

Pits ‘n’ Pots!

I have to say I have never heard of Pits n Pots, but I guess that’s the good thing of being at these events. You’d hear examples of websites that work that you can pass on to other people. To understand a bit more about what PitsnPots is all about, check out what they have to say about themselves in their About section…

This is the chance for all the people of Stoke on Trent to have their say on the issues that are facing our city. Local politics & news. We write about the stories that attract the most local interest, and give you the chance to have your say. No post will be removed, unless it is considered to be libellous, threatening, personal or abusive.

PitsnPots Tweet Highlights…

A couple of tweets on the subject to enlighten you on what we were talking about at the #recasting event on this subject…

timesjoanna: @pitsnpots easily best council chasing website in uk (via @willperrin)

grunt121:Building credibility was the next step, moving it to a self hosted format first step, then competing with papers

4talks:is a blog the best way for the public to take on their council?

hadleypaul:Good to see some honest, un-edited content being delivered in Stoke via Pits n Pots

CharlesHunter:@mikerawlins irritating and enlightening Stoke-on-Trent councillors to good effect

demsoc:@pitsnpots on benefits of putting everything on the site “without spin” (let he who is without spin…)

mediatalentbank:pitsnpots; natonal media source material from their local blog

mediatalentbank:‘forced the biggest rift on the BNP party… thnaks to story they published on their site’ (BNP members sit on council)

willperrin:@pitsnpots isn’t recognised by council press office despite thousands of visits from council domain

mediatalentbank:citizen journalism filling gaps that traditional media can’t (or doesn’t) fill

grunt121:If there’s a positive news story we get it out, but we also scrutinise the council as you take our money.

gabysslave:Paul Tillesley talking about BCC working with the challenges of dealing with being under scrutiny and digital transformation

timesjoanna: Tilsley asked if he checks new digital news sites or just the Bham Post. “Is Marc Reeves listening” is Tilsley’s first response.

Cllr Paul Tilsley

When we talk about politicians who preach and talk about wanting to engage through the web, we do in fact wonder… just how far they go to connect online. Cllr Paul Tilsley says he reads blogs and names “The Stirrer” as one that he reads regularly. He also says he uses google alerts, though some people might disagree with his methods… check it out.

siwhitehouse:Paul Tilsley uses Google Alerts to track people talking about him. Wonder how typical he is? Appears defensive. But engaging?

rasga: Google alerts are rubbish and slow ad unreliable

Charlie Elphicke

Charlie is a Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Dover & Deal. Charlie talked about Dover’s Forum and says that the most important part of social media is conversation. He congratulates people running community websites by saying “You shine lights where no one else would” and I totally agree with this.

I know a couple of community websites that have done wonders for its community. For example HarringayOnline and Kings Cross Environment . He also makes an interesting point about changing the way we communicate. “Lets move from ‘shop window’ to a two way conversation relationship”.

The importance of community websites…

There are certainly some things that either government and local government could never deliver. Now this is not because they are not capable to or they don’t have the resources to do so.  It solely down to the fact that organizations like government and commercial entities, have policies, restrictions and are stuck with process timelines before any action can be taken. Its not a “Just Do It” type of environment.

Community websites are the alternatives to government websites…

They have voices because they are not severely restricted. They have views because they are not bound to policies that gag them. And last but not least, they are actionable because they are not stuck to any process timelines. The valuable impact of community websites towards government is giving politicians and public sector employees to LISTEN.

Its never been easier to LISTEN to what people need to make their lives better. Its never been easier to know if a service is not working or not delivered accordingly. So if only governments can somehow find a way to NOT to integrate, but to cooperate and collaborate, then something absolutely useful can come out of this.

Nick Booth on the Big City Plan

I’ve known Nick or more known as @Podnosh ever since the first day I started using Twitter. To give you an idea of what the Big City Plan is all about… have a look at these tweets.

willperrin: Big city plan talk translation of awful council condocs by volunteers was world class piece of work

mediatalentbank: nick booth on the big city plan, translated jargon report into plain english

Actions that matter…

Nick talks about how people now have the passion, power and tools to improve on government. The Big City Plan’s blog that coordinate the social media stuff n surgeries in Brum is truly something inspirational. For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to write a special piece on this, but never actually got around to it. But I’m glad that this has been brought to the attention at this particular #recasting event.

The beginning and evolution of The Big City Talk…

Just imagine where it all started. Its amazing to hear Nick talk about how this project started. It was just a handful of people sitting around a table talking about how frustrated they were with the consultation process of Birmingham City Plan.  Then instead of continuing being frustrated, they took the matter in their own hands and start “The Big City Talk” which was essentially a blog that translated all the government jargon and PDF formats to readable, plain english, in portions or chunks that was digestible to the public.

Talk about volunteering and doing the community a service… this is one hell of a service, don’t you think?!? They translated paragraph by paragraph and not only displayed them on this blog but also managed to instigate conversations and create a movement that gave the power and the will to people to improve on government. And all of this was made possible via social media and the understanding of how the web now works and is serving as “Platforms for Action”.

The Social Media Surgeries…

Social Media surgeries is the ability to give people to make government better.  Its amazing of what we are willing to do for free just because we want to make things better. There’s so much that’s going on in Social Media surgeries across the UK, where people learn and harness their social media skills and tools to collaborate among each other to improve our lives. Nick talked alot about this during the #recasting event which I found very fascinating.

Birmingham has truly set the platform and pioneered a movement that can effectively help reinvent government and introduce a new way for government to communicate and collaborate with citizens. It will be interesting to hear experiences from other social media surgeries across the UK so that we don’t reinvent the wheel. A cross section of communities with similar problems and dilemmas with local authorities can be overcome by sharing stories of success and solutions.

The Birmigham City Council DIY website

Birmingham never seems to fail to impress me with their high level of spirits and enthusiasm to make things better.  Even with the recent disaster surrounding the new costly BCC website, they just keep on coming up with innovative ways to improve government. And the best thing about all this is, its all FREE! If you don’t believe me, then just check out the website they’ve created called BCC DIY website.

I also recently came across this interview with Al Smith from Newcastle City Council going to volunteer and work on the BCC website. He was interviewed by Paul Hadley.

Civic Indigestion and its effect on community websites

Nick mentioned alot of things throughout his presentation but the sound byte that I would like to take from him would be the issue of “Civic Indigestion” and its relationship with community built websites.  Nick mentioned that it is due to the media difference in interest and reporting of what matters to the community is possibly one of the sources of “civic indigestion” which is why community built platforms or websites are strategically positioned to overcome or lessen that indigestion.

Therefore there is an urgency to ensure that each community has the capabilities and skills to build a website that enables conversations and collaboration between local government and citizens. This is a effort that is getting more and more attention especially with efforts such as Will Perrin’s “Talk About Local“. Hyperlocal websites can deliver an online voice for citizens and have the potential to develop a more democratic and transparent relationship with government.


Well I have to say it was certainly an experience coming down to Birmingham to attend this event. Learnt alot of new and exciting stuff that is happening in Brum and definitely gave me alot of food for thought. To end this post, I’d like to share this video (which I was unable to embed) about how interactive are our MP’s by the BBC featuring @alncl.

Hope this was useful!

Liz Azyan